Your startup will encounter complexity, sooner than you expect it.
That encounter will trigger huge emotional responses in you and people you trust.
Here are some tips and tricks to help you cope when startup complexity arrives.
After the first product is launched, growth begins – that’s the good news.
The challenging news: With growth comes unavoidable complexity that often turns the fun startup into a distressing mess that triggers the worst fears and behavior of employees and especially first-timers.
Complexity is a huge challenge to founders who are inexperienced in managing groups. Most can figure out how to manage a handful of employees and a couple of contractors. However, soon that handful becomes eight times eight, and then a hundred more. It gets crazy, very fast. What used to be a simple organization of close friends becomes a fast-growing group of distant strangers going in many directions at the same time from many locations in your country and even the world.
Compounding the challenges will be the rise in complexity of the processes, checks, and balances, and functions. They become more and more multi-dimensional without a letup in the speed demanded during the construction of your startup.
Encountering such rises in complexity sends signals to the company’s leadership that it needs to urgently make even more changes that ensure growth continues. More hired help is needed – fast – for expansion. Swift recruiting is demanded to attract more candidates – especially those with demonstrated managerial skills and know-how about how to operate dynamic, complex organizations. Near panic ensues and soon contractors are sought as desperately as full-time employees.
While all of that is going on, the CEO will have to make significant adjustments in the organization of responsibilities for those early hires where growth has outpaced their abilities. People resist such changes, they don’t like moving their positions, titles, and responsibilities. So do the founder CEOs whose dear friends are among that resistant group.
Here is an example: Slack & founder Stewart Butterfield
High growth quickly impacted startup Slack, led by serial entrepreneur Stewart Butterfield. You might think he would have been calm and cool as it happened, but wrote that it was a very troubling time for him and the company. Here is his description of how he and his management responded:
INTERVIEW of Stewart Butterfield, CEO of Slack.
Wall Street Journal, October 11, 2018
WSJ: What have you learned in your experience from Flickr to now that has helped you to run a company?
Mr. Butterfield: I would have thought that my job two or three years ago was to be smarter than everyone else and to make all of the really important decisions. It turns out that wasn’t actually the job. There might be a point like when you’re eight people, but that goes away really quickly. Now, I think about really three distinct categories. One is setting the overall vision and strategy. The second one is governance, supervisory, administrative duties. Then the last bucket, which is by far the most important, is ensuring that the organization as a whole is performing at the highest possible level.
WSJ: You’ve been growing quickly. Were there points where it has become unmanageable and you’ve wanted to slow down?
Mr. Butterfield: There was a time about 18 months ago where we really put on the brakes, mostly on the product and engineering side, because the complexity is a little bit greater there, and we wanted to make sure we actually had sufficient management and leadership capacity to keep people productive and stay organized.
BOTTOM LINE: Get ready for complexity to quickly overtake your startup priorities. As the leader, you will have to do everything faster than you want and your results will mostly be below your desired quality. It challenges even the most seasoned of entrepreneurs. But they learned how to get through the worst and emerge with their companies growing and healthy. So can you.